Kicking off GarageGames' IndieGamesCon, Wideload Games CEO Alex Seropian's keynote broke down his company's philosophies as a number of religiously followed commandments -- guideposts to running a successful indie studio, and illustrated the points with rundown of the making of its first Wideload Shorts title, Cyclomite.
How The Market Works
"Right now is absolutely the best time to be in games because of all the opportunities out there," started Seropian, but tempered the comment with graphs of console development costs and team sizes to illustrate that the more popular games are the harder they are to develop.
Seropian listed a list of common complaints and challenges of the market: that it's hit driven, that the cost of entering the market is high, that hardware manufacturers and retail decisions are outside of developer control, that new hardware comes every 12-18 months.
Still, he said, these days are great, and extra great for indie games. "There's this crazy upside right now. Everyone wants new games and our business is growing. If you compare us to film and TV, we are smoking."
Not only does everyone want new games, he continued, but they want original games. Seropian noted that two-thirds of the top 100 best selling games since 2000 have been original IP. "This shows that the people who play games want new stuff," he said. "They like Star Wars games, absolutely, but they like new stuff."
Seropian also pointed out that recent industry shifts have seen tremendous growth in the market for smaller games, and more opportunities for selling games without shelf space.
"Xbox Live Arcade has done such a great service to small developers by proving you can make money in the games business without retail," he said. "This just means more opportunity for all of us."
The Wideload Commandments
Seropian then moved on to detail how Wideload is conducting its own business in this new market with a number of Wideload Commandments -- the first being 'Thou Shalt Establish Your Creative Direction.' Be original, he said, adding that Wideload wanted to have a brand with the sense of humor that it brings to its products.
'Be No One's Biotech,' the list continued. Wideload intends to be independent, and determine its own success, but added that its goals and its partners' goals should always be the same.
Then followed 'Own Thine Own Intellectual Property' and 'Keep Thine Overhead Low'. Seropian said the company keeps things small, with a low burn rate. "We don't want 100 people working for three years on one game and then have to layoff half the company and start over," he said.
Seropian said the company designs 100 games per year. The company collects game ideas from everyone with design and pitch parties every few months where the staff iterate and challenge each other, then picks a few for prototypes.
How Wideload Works
He further explained the company's unique development model, saying Wideload works to establish an IP before funding it -- "That's a lot of work, but we build it into our process," he said.
Though the company's internal design teams stay at less than a total of 20 people, Seropian said Wideload has "built a culture that treats our contractors like team members."
Its infrastructure and process extends all the way to every hand that contributes, he said, with "no wall that seperates inside and out... Our contractors are like a team and we work with them project after project."
He continued by saying the company focuses on game design not engine creation, and that it licenses other toolsets because it needs to be able to extend tools out to those beyond the company walls.
"If you asked me two years ago if two guys could start up a game company I would have said forget it," Seropian concluded. "Today, I say 'Absolutely!' So go and do that!"
The Commandments Illustrated: Cyclomite
Seropian then handed the keynote over to studio director Scott Corley to demonstrate Cyclomite, the company's just-announced first Wideload Shorts title. Shorts, Corley explained was an 'indie studio in an indie studio,' with smaller teams and budgets.
He said that Wideload doesn't "buy in to the 'genius game designer guy' concept," saying that everyone on the four-to-six member teams do multiple tasks and are in on the game design.
He also said that the Shorts' schedules keep staff happy, saying "if you work on something for two years its no fun anymore. Small cycle times keep us fresh and let us have concepts in development all the time."
Corley also said that the Shorts division could afford to "fail a lot," adding, "we're not afraid of working on something, spending a few weeks on it, and have it not work."
He added that the company also firmly believes in the power of prototypes. "Everyone says that they do, but few people act on it," Corley said. "We actually do it."
"Working on Cyclomite," he concluded, "we purposely prevented people from working on modifying the look of the game until we got the gameplay right. Our cooperative and versus modes evolved out of gameplay in a way we could never have preplanned and written down on paper."